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My first visit to Amritsar (Read 31913 times)
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My first visit to Amritsar
04. Jan 2004 at 09:50
 
After a 2 hour long journey by car to Amritsar from Nawanshahr, tired and exhausted, I arrived at a bustling City. Initially it just seemed like any other chaotic City in Punjab - hot, sticky, car fumes and noisy with horns constantly blaring.
 
Then we walked into the
 
Shri Harmandir Sahib,
the Golden Temple

and it hit me.  
 
The calm, serene atmosphere, the enchanting and hypnotic kirtan melody resonating across the waters. In the middle of the pool stood the shimmering Harmandir Sahib in the midday sun. At night time, the whole scene changed to someting out of a fairy tale, a Palace floating on water. One cannot but help be humbled at the sight of the home to the Sikh Religion.
 

The words of Mark Tully started to ring in my ears
 
 "Only those entirely devoid of all spirituality could fail to feel something of the presence of God".
 
This was my experience - what was yours like?
 
Sardara
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #1 - 24. Jan 2004 at 13:05
 
a good but very brief  description of Sri Harmandir Sahib.
Little bit of the history of the city of Amritsar with the untiring efforts by GURU RAMDASS JI AND GURU ARJAN DEV SAHIB JI  in its development and of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib for the establishment of Akal Takht sahib,  with the subsequent attacks  of the enemies of humanity in general and of Sikhism in particular would have enlightened the readers very much  
jagjit singh
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #2 - 06. Oct 2004 at 19:02
 
Amritsar by Road
 
 By Charanjiv and Sangeeta Singh, New Delhi, India. October 2004
 
 
For our first family visit to Golden Temple, we decided to drive down to Amritsar. Apart from the advance hotel booking, no real planning was done. We wanted to discover the holy city of Amritsar.
On a fine October morning, we left Delhi at 4:30 am. To beat the Delhi traffic jams, we chose to leave early. And our effort certainly paid off. We reached Mayur Dhaba, near Karnal, for our breakfast at 6:30 am. The Dhaba offered delicious pyaz ka parathas and aaloo ka parathas, served with fresh makkhan. Like any other dhaba, we had to be vigilant with the hovering flies; they appeared to be equally interested in our breakfast!
Except for the small patches where the road was uneven, the drive was otherwise comfortable right up to Jalandhar. Beyond Jalandhar, the road is without the divider.
On our way, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a sprawling one-of-the-cleanest fast food restaurants; it was a McDonalds situated near Khanna – approximately 280 km from Delhi.
The stretch between Goraya and Jalandhar provided some creative ‘architectural’ sights. We saw water tanks atop well-constructed houses in the shape of airplanes and footballs!
The eight and a half hour drive till Amritsar was extremely enjoyable; we reached our budget hotel, Grand Hotel, rack rate Rs 1100/- for an A.C. double room, located right opposite the railway station, at 1:00 pm.  
While the service at the hotel was disappointing, the hotel restaurant compensated by serving some outstanding Fish Tikkas and Lemon Chicken. They were one of the best.
At 5:00 pm, we were at Wagah Border to cheer and jeer. But heavy rain played spoilsport. The patriotic fervor, nevertheless, is not to be missed.
We set out for paying obeisance to Sri Darbar Sahib at 8:00 pm. On setting our foot inside the temple complex, we got immersed in an ocean of spirituality and holiness. The well-lit glistening temple, shining in the middle of serene waters, was mesmerizing.
The queue of devotees was long; right up to the Darshani Deori. But there was no chaos; no jostling; no restlessness; no impatience. All waited for their turn with dignity.
The soul-soothing kirtan by the ragis, being played at the temple, touched us deep inside. It was a profound religious experience that will stay with us for lifetime.
Next day early morning we were again at the Temple. Cool breeze and overcast sky made the weather pleasant.  
The all-pervasive mood was once again peaceful and relaxing. We paid obeisance; walked around the pool; and meditated sitting on the steps of the pool.
After a refreshing dip in the pool, we set out for the city.
The shops outside the temple complex were well stocked with appropriate books and articles. We picked steel Kardas and books for friends, relatives and ourselves.
Discovering that the lanes are narrow, we decided to tour the old city on cycle rickshaws. We picked the famous papad and wadian from Dry Fruit Corner, Hall Bazaar, and found them excellent. And so were the Amritsari Kulche of Maqbool Road. (For the ‘cleanliness obsessives’, it is recommended that the Kulchas are ordered but eaten elsewhere!) We picked traditional jutties from a shop near the Golden Temple – opposite the Jalianwala Bagh entrance, and brassware from the ‘utensil bazaar’. The rides through Guru Bazaar, Moti Bazaar and Hall Bazaar were a delightful sight.
Throughout our stay, the warmth and simplicity of Ambarsari people stood out. It appeared, irrespective of caste and religion, the local community has imbibed the Guru’s teachings.
We will be coming again, Amritsar; the relationship has just begun!
 
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Michael Palins Visit to Amritsar
Reply #3 - 08. Nov 2004 at 01:10
 
A sign greets the traveller who makes the long walk across no-man's land and through the easternmost archway. 'India, the Largest Democracy in the World, Welcomes You'. As if to emphasize what a difference a half-mile makes, cold beer salesmen assail you and you are liable to be overtaken on the road by women on motorbikes. But the difference between the severity and discipline of Islamic Pakistan and the liberalism of secular India seems nowhere better demonstrated than in the border city of Amritsar.
 
Muslim and Hindu live reasonably happily together here (indeed, it's a fact that, despite Partition, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan), but the predominant religion in the first big city on the Indian side of the border is neither Muslim nor Hindu. Amritsar is a Sikh town.
 
Sikhism, professed by 65 per cent of the population here, is one of the world's newer faiths. It was founded by one Guru Nanak, in the early years of the 16th century. After a lifetime of travel, he concluded from what he saw that 'God is to be found neither in the Koran or the Puranas' (the sacred Hindu texts). Unable to accept the Hindu caste system, or what he saw as the intolerance of Islam, Guru Nanak came up with an admirably pragmatic solution. One God for all, rich or poor, with no human hierarchies or priesthoods, idols or icons coming in between.
 
In a nod towards another religion, the Sikh gurus chose a pool visited by Lord Buddha around which to build their first temple. It was called Amrit Sovar (The Nectar Pool) and though the name was elided to Amritsar, the pool, much extended, still exists and the temple built around it is now one of the most famous shrines in the world.
 
To get to the Golden Temple I take a motorcycle rickshaw into the centre of the city. The bracing, or exhausting, anarchy of Indian streets begins as soon as we leave the hotel. Cars veer out of side roads without stopping, lame dogs hop gamely across your bows, bicycles and buses appear from nowhere and blasts of the horn mingle with blasts from exhausts. At a roundabout we are forced into the middle of the road to avoid not just a cow, but a cow feeding its calf. As we pull out, a scooter with three small children concertinaed in between their mother and father hoots indignantly at us before disappearing in a cloud of fumes from the back of a passing truck.
 
Road safety signs with slogans like 'Hell or Helmet!' and 'Stay Married! Divorce Speed!' are partially obscured and universally ignored.  
 
An additional discomfort for an Englishman driving into Amritsar is a series of very public reminders of how much we were once disliked.  
 
On one roundabout is a statue of a dashing figure in a theatrical moustache, a puja garland around his neck, running forward pointing a gun. This celebrates the assassin Udham Singh, who shot and killed Sir Michael O'Dwyer, a hated governor of the Punjab, in London in 1940.  
 
Around the next corner is a statue to S. C. Bose, who felt so strongly about getting the British out of India that he tried to ally his Indian National Army with the Germans and Japanese in the Second World War. A half-mile further on is the alleyway leading to the Jallianwala Bagh, where 400 peacefully but illegally protesting Indians were massacred on the orders of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer in April 1919, an outrage considered by many to mark the beginning of the end of British rule. Today the site is a park where a sacred flame burns, sponsored by Indian Oil.  
 

In the Jallianwala Bagh. 13 framed bullet holes on the walls are said to date back to the Amritsar Massacre of 1919.
 
The complex of buildings that contains the Golden Temple is called a Gurudwara (Gateway to the Gurus), the name given to all places of worship of the 20 million or so Sikhs in India. This, the holiest and grandest of them all, dominates the centre of Amritsar, its balconied, white stucco facade and flamboyantly domed roof rising exotically above a clutter of stalls, billboards, shops and crowded pavements where groups of Dalits ('the oppressed') squat inches from the traffic.
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Michael Palins Visit to the Golden Temple
Reply #4 - 08. Nov 2004 at 01:11
 
There is a strict dress code for the Golden Temple. First of all the head must be covered at all times. Scarves of various colours are readily available for non-Sikhs, either from any one of the 17 young lads who converge on you as soon as you pull up outside, or more cheaply from one of the stalls inside the forecourt. Shoes and socks must be removed. By the time we have deposited them at special lockers (a lady takes mine, something that would never have happened in Pakistan), we look like a line of pantomime pirates. Hands must then be washed at marble-lined public basins and bare feet passed through a trough of water at the bottom of the steps.  
 
The combination of the heat of the day, the constant crowd moving in and out and the carrying of film gear makes all these preliminaries rather a trial, but the sight that greets us when we finally reach the gateway arch banishes thoughts of discomfort, at least for a minute or two.
 
The Golden Temple itself, called by Sikhs the Hari Mandir (God's Temple) sits, like a great glittering barge, in the centre of a huge tank of water, with one narrow causeway (jammed with people throughout the day) connecting it with the promenade and the dazzling white temple buildings that enclose it on all four sides.  
 
Four gates, one on each side, symbolize the inclusivity of Sikhism, the temple's openness to all, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex. The four equal entrances are not all that distinguish it from other religious buildings. Instead of climbing to an altar, the stairs to the Golden Temple lead downwards to the holy place, an encouragement to approach with humility.  
 
Once down the steps to the waterside, there isn't much encouragement to sit around. Most of the pilgrims are moving, in a remorseless clockwise flow, around the marble-flagged promenade, some strolling, some bustling purposefully, some dodging the mops and buckets of the cleaners, most squeezed onto coconut matting to avoid burning their feet, while hymns from the Holy Book are sung over booming loudspeakers. Some men are stripped down, bathing in the holy water, which seems to be largely full of fat carp with gulping, Jagger-like mouths. Very few visitors, apart from a one-legged man lying asleep, head resting on his crutches, are doing nothing.  
 
I notice how much more openly curious people are here than in Pakistan.  
 
'What is the country in which you are residing?' they ask. 'For what purpose have you come?'
 
Occasionally, a passing family group will quite unapologetically insert themselves alongside us and get a friend to take a photo, as if we too are part of the tourist attractions. Helpful explanations of what's going on are given, whether solicited or not.
 
An elderly gentleman with a long beard points in the direction of the Hari Mandir.
 
'Whatever you require from God he is giving you. That is what they are singing about.'  
 
There is a brisk, businesslike pragmatism about the Sikhs. They don't seem over-concerned with the mysteries of belief.
 
Philanthropy, along with business enterprise and physical bravery, is a vital part of Sikhism and all their temples have a langar, a kitchen preparing free meals around the clock, financed through the one-tenth of their income that all Sikhs are expected to give to good works. It's a huge operation, with an estimated 50,000 meals prepared each weekday and twice that at weekends. The work is all done by volunteers, and any Sikh, whether surgeon or street cleaner, is expected to come and help chop onions or wash dishes. In the words of one of the ten holy Gurus on whose teachings Sikhism is based: 'If you want to understand me, come into my kitchen.' This we do.  
 
  
  
  With two guardians of the temple. Their robes and spears symbolise the dual nature of the Sikhs: service and defence. In the background the Harimandir (Hari is God, Mandir is temple) has 1100lb (500 kg) of gold on its walls.  
 
 
The kitchen is spread through several buildings. One is entirely devoted to a chapatti production line. A rat skips nimbly out of the way as fresh sacks of flour are cut open and fed into the bowels of a slowly turning machine, which regurgitates the flour as dough. One group of helpers rolls the dough into balls, another flattens each ball out into a pancake, and another lays them out on hotplates the size of double beds, made from cast-iron sheets laid on bricks with gas fires underneath, and capable of taking a couple of hundred chapattis at a time. When one side is done the chapattis are flipped over in quick, dexterous movements of a long thin implement with a half-moon end. When the flipper is satisfied both sides are right he gives an extra strong flick, which sends the chapatti flying off the hotplate to land neatly on a pile on the floor. The piles are then removed and carried out to the refectory.  
 
The chapatti production line shares a tall barn-like space with dal cauldrons, the largest cooking vessels I've ever seen. Vats like giant tympana are set above gas jets and stirred with mighty ladles.  
 
I pick my way through the kitchens, across a terrace where 30 or 40 people sit slicing onions and garlic, green peppers and ginger, and up the stairs to take a meal in one of the spartan communal dining rooms. Each floor is the size of a warehouse and can accommodate 3000 covers at any one time. I join a line of people who file in and sit cross-legged at a long coir mat, soggy from periodic washing. Volunteers pass through, giving out segmented stainless steel trays, which others then fill up with chapatti, dollops of pickle and dal ladled out of steel buckets. Water is poured into our mugs from another bucket.  
 
As a helpful man next to me says, this whole process embodies the Sikh teaching that we are all equal and we must learn to serve each other.  
 
This high-volume soup kitchen is not the only service; there are also free dormitories here providing accommodation for 25,000 people a night.  
 
It looks and sounds like a fine and good thing but there have been abuses of the system. I notice a sign advising 'Pilgrims must not accept eatables from strangers', which refers to a recent spate of cases of people being drugged and their belongings stolen.  
 
  
    
  There is such a thing as a free lunch. At the Golden Temple refectory with my new friend, Onkar Singh.  
    
Twenty years ago this altruistic environment saw dreadful violence when a group of Sikhs demanding their own state barricaded themselves in the Akhal Takht, the second most sacred building on the site.  
 
The siege was lifted in the infamous Operation Bluestar, when the Indian army brought tanks into the temple and pulverized the building. It's estimated that several thousand died in the fighting. Such was the strength of feeling that a few months later Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, who authorized the attack, was assassinated by Sikh members of her own bodyguards.
 
Such trauma seems almost inconceivable tonight as a setting sun burnishes the 500 kilograms of gold that sheath the marble walls of the Hari Mandir, hymns echo around the arcades and turbanned and bearded Sikh men and their families move slowly in through  
its doors to pay homage to the Holy Book, the most precious object in a religion that rejects idolatry.
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #5 - 12. Nov 2004 at 04:19
 
Hi..
I travelled to Amritsar last month on much hyped Singapore Amritsar flight
I would say that i was so happy to land in my own motherland and in the lap of Guru's Nagri
But what i experienced at Amritsar airport was not really amusing. we waited 2 hours to get the luggage due to improper arrangements to deliver the luggage  
And there are lot of other things to improve to give this important city airport a world class look.
 
Melbourne, Australia
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #6 - 15. Nov 2004 at 01:56
 
Fantastic city and state of punjab and amritsar, however the airport MUST improve if it wants to move forward.
 
Sukhraj Gill
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #7 - 03. Jan 2005 at 05:12
 
Of course nothing can be as good as the real thing, but for anyone who like me hasn´t yet had the opportunity to go to Amritsar ...
 
check out the 2 video clips about the Golden Temple on this site ("What´s new?") !!!  
 
Great feature. Thank you Smiley
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #8 - 12. Sep 2005 at 18:07
 
Email: smuhar@amritsar.com
Location: Canada
We went to India after a long gap of 6 years. Amritsar has changed a lot. I wouldn't say everything has changed for the good. There's more pollution, more vehicles on the roads, more dirt, more power cuts than ever before. On the good side, some new malls have come up, lots of trendy places have opened up and you can now get everything you want. But the biggest change I felt was in the people, maybe it's just me but we did not find the people that friendly anymore. Maybe it's the new age where everyone is more materialistic now. The love, sincerity and hospitality that we are Amritsarias are proud of and known for was missing. People now don't have the time to visit each other, it's not like before when you could go unannounced to your friends homes and would still feel welcome. Now you have to make phone calls, set up a time and then meet. I don't know if it's good or bad but I would still like the life to be old way. I am certainly not looking forward to my next visit to India.
 
From: Sukhpreet Muhar
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #9 - 13. Sep 2005 at 16:33
 
Date:  13 September 2005  
 
Hello from Australia
I am returning to my beloved India in November this year, this time to Amritsar and I'm very excited. I have a very beautiful friend, his name is Gurmatpal and he is the most peaceful, forgiving, generous, gentle man it has ever been my privledge to ever know. He assures me I will be overwhelmed by Amritsar and his people and if they are anything like him then it will be the most amazing experience of my life. I look forward to personal time to reflect on my life while absorbing the serenity of the Golden Temple, I also relish in the thought of being a part of all the colour and music that is the Sikh way of life. To anyone travelling to anywhere in India it has been my experience that if you 'embrace' it, it will embrace you back and you will leave a better person.  
 
 
From Louise Routledge
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Re: My first visit to Amritsar
Reply #10 - 10. Jan 2006 at 04:56
 
Quote from Forum Admin on 04. Jan 2004 at 09:50:
After a 2 hour long journey by car to Amritsar from Nawanshahr, tired and exhausted, I arrived at a bustling City. Initially it just seemed like any other chaotic City in Punjab - hot, sticky, car fumes and noisy with horns constantly blaring.

Then we walked into the

Shri Harmandir Sahib,
the Golden Temple

and it hit me.

The calm, serene atmosphere, the enchanting and hypnotic kirtan melody resonating across the waters. In the middle of the pool stood the shimmering Harmandir Sahib in the midday sun. At night time, the whole scene changed to someting out of a fairy tale, a Palace floating on water. One cannot but help be humbled at the sight of the home to the Sikh Religion.

http://www.amritsar.com/images/gd_darbar.jpg

The words of Mark Tully started to ring in my ears

"Only those entirely devoid of all spirituality could fail to feel something of the presence of God".

This was my experience - what was yours like?

Sardara

 
 
Though I had the opportunity to visit Shri Harminder Sahib twice, but during my last visit in November 2005 I had the divine view of perhaps millions of small bird resting on the ancient tree in the complex. It was nearly 8 PM and I could see all birds sitting motionless, undisturbed by the continous movements of people around the tree. It is such holy place where not only human being get solace but even birds get shelter. I was really moved by such an experience.
 
P Chopra
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